The surge of Congressional opposition to President Obama’s Libyan policy as a violation of the War Crimes Act is another sign that the Long War is becoming a burdensome over-extension during an upcoming election year filled with war-weariness and a deep economic crisis at home.
Led by Reps. Dennis Kucinich, John Conyers and Ron Paul, an angry House majority is being blocked only by the intervention of Speaker Boehner, who is asking tough questions himself.
Why did President Obama override the constitutional advice of top Pentagon and Justice Department lawyers and insist that the Libyan intervention is within his executive powers? He certainly wants to protect his prerogatives, but there may be a simpler explanation involving hubris:
Obama and his military advisers misjudged the staying power of Qaddafi, thinking that the Libyan strongman would be overthrown or killed before the deadline set forth in the War Powers Act. Obama and his political advisers misjudged the potential feistiness of the House over Libya, even after 205 members recently supported an accelerated withdrawal from Afghanistan. These were dangerous miscalculations, even signs of arrogance, by an administration which advertises itself as centrist and rational. The electoral question then becomes whether they are overestimating their capacity for victory in 2012.
NATO has launched 5,000 bombing sorties in fifteen weeks—including direct attacks on Qaddafi’s personal offices—killing and displacing thousands of Libyans on the increasingly-hollow humanitarian claim to be preventing a massacre, as authorized in UN resolution 1973.
The U.S. and NATO are attempting to marginalize and ignore the rising chorus of opposition while they hope the brutal killing mission somehow succeeds. Perhaps Qaddafi will die, perhaps not. In the meantime, the growing global opposition includes:
- The 53-member African Union, which has twice dispatched delegations led by South Africa’s Jacob Zuma, to hold dialogues with Qaddafi and the Benghazi-based rebels. This week the AU instructed its member states to ignore an arrest warrant issued for Qaddafi by the International Criminal Court;
- Russia, which refused to veto the UN war authorization, but now campaigns against the NATO bombing and is coordinating diplomatic efforts with the African Union;
- Pope Benedict, who calls for dialogue and diplomacy, and whose Tripoli-based bishop actively condemns the bombing as a violation of human rights and completely counter-productive. “Qaddafi is a Bedouin, you cannot change his mind by bombing him,” the bishop says (LA Times, July 3);
- NATO, where only eight of 28 countries are materially invested in the military campaign, and where “the greatest source of internal pressure on NATO is from leftist and anti-intervention parties.” (LA Times, July 5)
As recommended in the Bulletin on April 12, a strategy of “negotiations now” may be the only way to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe, civil war and the resumption of long-term colonial-type occupation. Instead, the desperate hawks in NATO can be expected to try to take out Qaddafi in either bin Ladin fashion or by an escalated air assault. “Pressure is growing for the coalition to deliver a knockout blow,” according to officials and outside observers (LA Times, July 5). The emerging alternative is a negotiated settlement involving Qaddafi yielding some degree of power, a military cease-fire between two fighting forces, and a brokered interim administration. Time is running out for the West, where control of Libyan oil to Europe will be the Machiavellian game to watch.
Unless Qaddafi goes missing soon, Obama’s gamble could become a political disaster instead of a soon-forgotten miscalculation. As he tries to woo back peace voters with his Afghanistan de-escalation, and turn his attention back to the economy, Obama has allowed himself to be rebuked by a bipartisan majority in the House of Representatives and even discredited as a constitutional lawyer by the administration’s top legal authorities.